Hardcore Henry (Хардкор): when he is resurrected with no memory and new robotic limbs, Henry must save his kidnapped wife from a telekinetic psychopath who has plans to weaponise a robo-army. From the opening credits (graphic, but blackly comic violence) you can tell this isn’t your usual action film – most of the movie is shot from a ‘First Person’ perspective, from the point-of-view of ‘Henry’ using an intricate head-cam rig. The film is basically 90 minutes straight of Henry running / jumping / shooting / punching through a long line of obstacles; with some awesome freerunning & parkour (seemingly no wires – or brains!), and high intensity and very high quality stuntwork: the elements combine to create a truly unique and awe-inspiring action spectacle. There’s also a great anarchic/punk sensibility to the movie; anything goes, and there’s a lot of crazy & zany elements… it even using things like subtitles to make a few jokes with. The biggest problem is that when everything is up at 150% the whole time, you end up becoming a bit numb to it towards the end. Another downside of the FPS style is that the camera is very shaky and has a warped fish-eye lens which distorts a lot of the outer frame. Hardcore Henry is a film that is truly cutting edge, in that it couldn’t have even been made a couple of years ago – the only remotely close comparison you could draw would be a less offensive, but higher-octane version of the Crank films. It’s fun, impressive, and completely mental, but overall struggles to engage after a while. Best viewed after consuming a twelve pack of Red Bull.
NOTE: The entire film was spawned from this music video – if you fancy 90 mins of this, look no farther than Hardcore Henry.
Dear God NO! [Grindhouse Cut]: a murderous outlaw biker gang kill their rivals and hide out in the woods, where they meet a crazy scientist and big foot… I think. Yup, here’s another ‘nasty nostalgia’ film with faux grain effect, pops and scratches, heavy saturation, projector sounds, mono/muffled soundtrack, tracking issues, etc, etc. It’s only 81 minutes long, but is crammed with filler: you get 5 minutes straight of up-close ‘mondo’ style topless dancing, a psychedelic heroin dream trip, and a Nazi Dr Frankenstein babe trip – all for no reason other than padding out the runtime (and increasing the shock factor). Made on a shoestring, the film’s packed with bad dialogue, bad acting, bad characters, actor changes, and ‘plot threads’ that make literally no sense. It’s like the director asked a 15 year old boy what he thought was cool – boobs, swearing, drinking, and bad attitudes man – and just rolled with that. We first meet the biker gang the morning after they trash a bus full of nuns and rape/murder them all, and it only goes downhill from there; bottoming out with a snuff scene that goes too far with a double rape and fetus removing/killing. I’ve seen much worse than this and not been as disgusted as this just nasty for nasty’s sake; and I couldn’t believe that there are directors out there that make Rob Zombie look like a proficient filmmaker. I’ve sat through some truly terrible movies in my day, and this is down there with the worst of ‘em. The only good thing about the entire project is it’s old school poster, and the only way I can imagine convincing anyone that this has worked is if you pitch it as a poor-taste no-budget physical effects show reel – or a masterclass in using controversy and a good poster as a get-rich-quick idea. A very very niche and ultra-nasty bikesploitation film.
Narcos (Season 1): two D.E.A. agents try to take down the world’s most notorious criminal – Pablo Escobar; a humble weed smuggler who became the wealthiest criminal in history. This feels like a mix between a high-production TV series, and a documentary – with dozens of long sections of expositional dialogue, archive footage, and additional information explaining (in great detail) external factors leading to some of the plot points. Even though this wasn’t particularly slavish to the historical facts; the continual reliance on archive footage makes it feel like it’s handicapping the story to non-fiction only. The ‘Original’ stuff is all brilliantly shot and written: and doesn’t shy away from the nasty side of the drug trade and organised crime; there’s plenty of blood, guts, sex, and violence in here for added authenticity. This is matched by a handful of fantastic lead performances from a cast of relatively unknown actors, who set the screen on fire. In fact, my only real gripe with watching Narcos is trying to figure out how long has passed between scenes – at one point a baby becomes a proper kid in the next scene, but Escobar is still running for election! Season 1 (10 Episodes) covers 43 out of 44 years of Escobar’s life in sufficient detail; leaving the worry that season 2 will be padded out or overly dramatised: 10-12 episodes could have made this a great one-off. Narcos is a gangster / crime epic that’s up there with the best of them: it’s is smart, thoroughly engaging, and truly addictive TV; adding another string to Netflix’s bow. Netflix and Chill? More like Narcos and Kill!!1!11!! AMIRITE?!?
The November Man: a lethal ex-CIA agent is brought back in for a simple extraction that tangles him up with a Russian politician, the CIA, and his former protegé. It’s one of those films set in the Soviet Bloc in which ‘everebadee talkz Eengleesh‘. It also boasts two former James Bond stars reprising the best bits of their roles – and for what it’s worth, it’s great to see Broz’s charisma again as he pouts and shouts his way from scene to scene in a antiheroic fashion. For a political/thriller there’s more than enough solid action scenes: car chases, foot chases, gunfights (complete with some John Woo style jumping / slow mo). There’s a shape-shifting plot that’s fun to follow, especially because the entire film is back to back plot-action-plot-action, that only briefly dips in the middle. It’s not all roses however; some of the sub-plots (like the mentor / master angle) feel very clunky, there’s a couple of weird directorial choices (like mad Dutch angles everywhere), and the woeful title isn’t explained until last 10 minutes – and it barely makes sense. Most importantly, there’s very little to distinguish this from a thousand other similar sub-Bourne movies based on shady CIA operations. The November Man is a solid – but unremarkable – Spy Thriller that sits just above the middle ground with entertaining performances and action.
Enter The Void: follows the final hours, afterlife, and reincarnation of a low-level drug pusher in neon-drenched Tokyo. If you’re unfamiliar with Gaspar Noe, you’ll learn pretty quickly that his film’s aren’t merely ‘movies’ or ‘stories’, but full-on immersive experiences – unique, ambitious, and experimental. The first, and second, minutes feel like 12-rounds with Tyson – click to see for yourself. if you can’t handle that, don’t go anywhere near Enter The Void. Everything ‘Noe’ is in here – long takes, disorienting audio and visuals, brutal and challenging scenes & stories, non-linear storytelling; not to mention explicit / sensational / controversial subject matter. Halfway through the runtime we get a recap of the beginning, and from then on the film seems to lose its way – filling the time with elongated CGI trips and floaty filler, overstaying its welcome, and pushing the viewers further and further from the story, until the final ten minutes, which is just gratuitous shagging, blowjobs, and cunni for no real reason (it did explain why I could only get this as a German import – classic Germany), topping out with a POV (Point-of-Vagina!) money shot. I don’t say this often, but there were waaaaay more nudity than required in this!! Technically it’s jaw-dropping and mind-boggling: the camera glides in / through / over any objects so fluidly – yet these astonishing feats are countered by overlong sequences of trippy, psychedelic, CGI visuals – one thing’s for sure, there’s no faulting Noe’s commitment to his vision. At just under three hours, this is simply far too long – there’s a stunning 80-100 minute film in here. Enter The Void is both immersive and repulsive: a well-realised idea, centred around an average story, with a divisive final hour, and trainwreck final 10 minutes… all told through an exciting, cinematic, and truly unique out-of-body experience that no other director would even dare to take on. I’m split right down the middle.
Magic Mike: loosely based on Channing Tatum’s early career (supposedly), it depicts the lives of several male strippers; some of whom want to party all the time, but others want more than the superficial lifestyle. Not really sure what the film was trying to convey… life is tough when you’re a stripper? Yeah, it must totally suck to be a handsome, young, guy that women will do anything to bone – SYMPATHY FAIL! McConaughey is on top crazy form – doing that deranged southern thang that only he can do this well. Is Magic Mike essentially Striptease / Showgirls for women? Pretty much, but the main differentiator is that Soderberg is behind the camera, so it’s done with an indie sensibility; and has been coloured/filtered to oblivion. When it comes to the crunch, it doesn’t feel like there’s much of a film in here at all, just an excuse for the ladies (and some guys) to see CT, MMc, Kevin Nash and a few other guys all oily and six-packy.
Note: there are a couple of ladies in here… somewhere.
Filth: a detective gunning for promotion is also heading for a breakdown, but how long can he keep his many plates spinning? This is the latest movie adaptation of an Irvine Welsh book, and feels like it’s going for a “Trainspotting for the teenies” angle. It would be silly to complain about the content of a film called Filth, but in case you need a heads-up: it’s crammed with deviant sex & sexuality, drug use, violence, and oodles of fantastically creative swearing, amongst other things. The over-emphasis of the of the craziness going on in Bruce’s mind – hallucinations, binges, sex, porn – don’t really detract from the story, because Bruce’s nose-candy nose-dive IS the story. Despite all the headline-grabbing controversial content crammed into this, the main talking point is undoubtedly James McAvoy’s performance; in an era where leading men no longer required to be likeable or even remotely empathetic, he works wonders with the few tiny slivers of humanity he gets. My biggest concern of the picture however is it’s extremely unflattering – and wholly unrealistic – take on Scotland and it’s culture: if it’s not films about the Loch Ness Monster, it’s about the druggies of Trainspotting, Red Road, NEDS, and now Filth – the Scottish tourist board must really hate our film industry.
BReaking BAd (Season 3): picks up soon after the explosive Season 2 finale, Walter and Jessie’s operation keeps growing, but is attracting yet more interest from the feds and rival gangs. By the time S3 had started we’d seen the ups and downs of the Walter-Jessie relationship several times, this season was – for me – the first time that another relationship became more interesting; Walter and Gus – which ranges from courteous & professional to explosively volatile – you also get the feeling that Walt has finally met his match, as Gus puts the squeeze on him, and the people he cares about. It’s definitely the best source of drama in this season. After Walt comes clean with Skyler their relationship also changes significantly, yet, not exactly in the direction you’d expect. Because so much emphasis is put on characters, family and relationships it takes over four episodes (of only thirteen) for any real plot to happen, and the only tension comes from the two silent cousin gang bangers. I find it fascinating in America that Breaking Bad depicts in-depth drug making techniques, drug use + abuse, violence, a man’s head being crushed by an ATM machine… but the word ‘fuck’ is bleeped out. Season three has some of the best moments (Car Park, Ladder confession, finale) in the series so far… yet it’s also got some of the slowest, most plodding and outright bizarre episodes (‘Fly’ episode feels out-of-place, and Walter – for the first time – appears ridiculously simple). The most defining feature of Breaking Bad is that it all still feels relatively normal and realistic – you believe in the characters, their families, their lives, their roles. You know people like these. That’s still the show’s strongest suit, but after 3 seasons it’s hard to see how much longer it can rely on character development over drama.
Sweet Karma: when a mute christian girl loses her sister to a generic Eastern European prostitution ring in Toronto there’s only one thing for her to do… find and kill ’em all! So this one’s a Human Trafficking film, but with proper (s)exploitation and revenge elements – a weird, but quite original combo. The low-res, grainy, cheap-looking film don’t help the watchability much, and there’s a couple of grim ‘Baise Moi’ type scenes in there, which are anything but pleasant. The story’s solid enough, and the finale is surprisingly good and tense. I was going to have a slight dig at the acting, but considering the lead is a Playboy Playmate (WTF), and everyone else is unknowns, I’ll give ’em a pass today. When a film’s trailer boasts the line “One of the hottest strip scenes on film”, it tells you all you need to know! Sweet Karma ticks all of the boxes of an old-school revenge film, but with Human Trafficking in there, it pales in comparison to the benchmark that is Lilja-4-Ever.
Merantau Warrior: a young rural martial artist must head to Jakarta as part of his coming-of-age ritual, but when his plans fall through he soon gets caught up in some grotty business. The story takes its time to warm up, but from the first frame the it looks great, with guerrilla location use of the vivid & vibrant countryside, and the city’s graffiti, buildings, clothes etc. The film really comes to life when the fighting starts – it remains intricate, innovative and entertaining through all of the set-pieces; and nothing beats a good-old showdown in an industrial shipping container yard! Iko Uwais shines brightest when kicking and punching his way through every extra in the country, but he can also hold a scene; If there’s any justice he will be the next action mega-star in the vein of Tony Jaa / Donnie Yen. An added benefit is that Silat is such a visual fighting style, and with no-nonsense, non-shaky camerawork it’s a treat to watch. Other than the slow-start, gratuitous cheesy love angle and a sloppy undercurrent of Western people taking liberties, Merantau Warrior lands every punch. Between this and The Raid – that Gareth Evans is now 2 for 2 in my book, and with the obvious improvement between the movies, I’m super-pumped for the final installment of this trilogy.
Killer Joe: a young redneck with bad debts finds out that his mother has a $50,000 life insurance policy, so he contacts the world’s dodgiest cop – Killer Joe. While this is pitched as a thriller, it’s more like a deep-south trailer-trash crime-caper, which was a nice surprise. More surprising, is the absolutely wicked streak of very, very black humour that holds the movie together, providing an unexpectedly high number of laughs. Better still is the perfectly selected cast, all of whom portray brilliant – memorable – characters, but it’d be wrong not to single out Juno Temple (for her no-holds barred performance) and McConaughey, for his portrayal of a scary, twisted, stickler-for-manners-and-the-rules dirty cop – he’s unbelievably good. A few scenes (the dinner date in particular) feel overlong and lifted directly from a play – because this is based on a play, doh! There’s tons of nudity, a jarring/uneasy synth soundtrack and a totally subversive ending that you couldn’t begin to predict. Not unlike The Killer Inside Me, this is a difficult one to recommend: it’s unbelievably dark and uncomfortable to watch in large parts yet it works so well as a piece of entertainment, with some great laughs: above all else, this is a stunning performance piece from all actor involved… including Emile Hirsch!!! (And Gina Gershon, and Thomas Haden Church…)
Hobo with a Shotgun [Blu Ray]: tells the tale of an individual with no permanent residence, and his acquisition of a short-range firearm… Duh! Being born the same way as Machete, I had some reservations before starting this – but they were short-lived. EVERYTHING about this film is an authentic ode to the horror/exploitation ‘masterpieces’ I grew up watching from the 70s and 80s. The setting is a dystopian, lawless town, so rotten that only the eponymous anti-hero can clean it up with a shotgun. There’s fantastic gore every 5 minutes, and all kinds of insane and outrageous blood-soaked SFX. The story is so absurd and OTT that you simply can’t begin taking seriously. – it’s essentially a cheap vehicle used to maximise the blood ‘n’ guts factor. Rutger Hauer is a little too good for this type of film, fleshing out an emotional, solid central character. Abby also makes a good scream queen, and the rest of the cast are enjoyable stereotypes. The colour pallet is very saturated; bright and poppy, the blood leaps off the screen – Hauer’s face was also what BD was made for; the faithfully recreated Carpenter-esque 80s sci-fi horror synth soundtrack and gunshots pump out of all speakers – this is worth the Blu Ray upgrade if the film sounds like your bag. All in all, the video, music, plot, gore, sleaze and nastiness all combine to make this feel like an authentic retro film – unlike the one crappy video-grain effect used on Machete. This beat every expectation I had, and while it’s no cinematic masterpiece, it’s certainly an absolute must-see for all horror/B-movie/retro movie fans.
The Guard: An odd Irish policeman teams up with an FBI agent to stop a major shipment of drugs. As the main character, Gleeson steals every scene and the entire show with his portrayal of an offbeat copper that switches between brilliance and insanity so often and effortlessly that you never know if he’s playing it straight or dumb. There’s a lot of other memorable characters woven through the story like Mark Strong’s disillusioned drug trafficker, both other bad guys, the elderly mother and rookie partner. The humour’s blacker than black, and drier than a bucket of sand – not for everyone, but for me it was fantastic, easily one of the funniest films I’ve seen so far this year. The story’s good, and keeps going through to the very last scene. The Guard is funny, sweary, a little surreal but very entertaining.
Family Jewels / Barry Munday: just weeks after losing his testicles in a trumpet-based attack, Barry is faced with a paternity lawsuit from someone he can’t remember humping! Being in almost every scene, Patrick Wilson really keeps this moving in the right direction; his comedy timing in particular is top-notch, and having seen him in Watchmen and Hard Candy he’s rapidly shooting up my list of most watchable actors. The rest of the cast are good, although most characters feel like they’ve been plucked from other films. The funny moments are mostly awkward/cringe-based with a hint of deadpan – lines like “one second I was watching a movie, six hours later I woke up in a hospital… where they had removed my testicles” – or 5 guys talking about their mangled penises – may not sound amazing, but are absolutely nailed with comic conviction. For a cringedy the laughs are paired with some surprisingly deep and emotive scenes & themes centering around paternity, fatherhood, pregnancy and family. Sure Family Jewels is a little slow-paced and has some questionable plot points, but it very uplifting and loaded with charm – right up to cheesier than cheesy ending. Decent debut from Chris D’Arienzo
Nude Nuns with Big Buns: tasteless throwback nunsploitation revenge flick with a latino twist. The single best thing about this film is that the entire female wardrobe could have been packed in to a purse; this is proper bang-for-your-buck stuff – with so much tits and ass that birthday suits seem normal by the end! It’s also way more offensive than your standard b-movie with some genuinely filthy scenes like the gas station encounter and motel self-surgery – it feels like a proper old-fashioned video nasty but without the hype – and it’s actually nasty. Story-wise, it’s pretty standard for the genre – following a lesbian, drug-addicted nun-gone-wild, with plenty of bad habits(!!). Technically, it’s pretty solid for a low-budget b-movie, and the acting’s passable for a bunch of z-listers playing stock characters. With possibly the most honest title in cinema history, this is genuinely packed full of gratuitous nudity and violence; it’s also got the greatest dispatch of a main bad guy in any film. Although this definitely isn’t for everyone, Nude Nuns with Big Guns is an entertaining, formulaic Machete-esque revenge flick aimed at the proper fans of ‘blood and titties’; a solid B-movie
City Island: Centers ’round a
prison guard correctional officer that secretly wants to become an actor, and many other secrets within his dysfunctional family. Despite being a family-based ‘comedy of errors’ (which should be boring by now) this totally works, mostly because of its brilliant little story, that remains interesting, and never loses the pace. It’s also funnier than a lot of all-out ‘comedies’, with a whole heap of scenes and jokes that range from observational to the absurd, to the cringey – peaking in a fantastic audition, and final 15 minutes. Although you usually watch actors trying play inexperienced actors through your fingers Garcia plays a total blinder here, going the full range and nailing every scene. Everyone else in the film is also great, nobody lets the side down. The only minor downer is the convenient-yet-convoluted plot – although the film needs it, and it does work itself out in the end. There’s also a bizarre feeder/BBW side story that isn’t 100% utilised or wrapped up. City Island will no doubt prove to be a sleeper DVD hit, as it’s an absolute stunner of an indie gem, that strikes a great balance between natural comedy and emotive moments.
London Boulevard: the story of an ex-con fresh out of a stretch in the joint, determined to go straight, and avoid the trap of falling back into London’s underbelly. This has two too many stories playing out, in separate dedicated chunks, that never really come together: we’ve got Farrell and Knightley’s relationship, the gangster aspect, beggar’s retribution and sister saviour – any of which could be the main plot of a normal film and would have made a solid story – rather than being side-stories all competing for prominence. As the locations flip between the streets of London and a country manor you realise that this is an outsider’s rose-tinted view. On the upside, it’s rather well shot and the acting’s pretty good: David Thewlis is indisputably the most watchable (and has the best lines, including “if it weren’t for Monica Bellucci she’d be the most raped actress in European cinema” quote of 2010 for me). Farrell‘s also pretty decent – despite regressing into a South African accent now and again. Ray Winsone‘s growing a bit tiresome, and needs to branch out or give it up – he plays the same character, with the same lines (just changing the names) in pretty much every film – the likability factor isn’t helped when these characters are outrageously racist. The final product is a Guy Ritchie imitation, but with less flare, less interesting characters and too many strands. Other than the memorable ending, the rest of London Boulevard is passable at best.
12 Rounds: After accidentally killing a terrorist’s girlfriend the hero cop must save his own Mrs in a game of revenge when the baddie escapes from jail a year later. Before watching this I had the sentence “Cena couldn’t act his way out of a joke shop” already typed up; turns out he’s the best actor in the whole film, which doesn’t say much about anyone else. Aidan Gillen was particularly bad, sounding like Raab Himself doing a Tommy Lee Jones from Blown Away impression. Can’t say a good thing about anyone else, other than they pretty much killed what would have been quite a compelling story. It’s from the director of a Die Hard film and the producer of Speed so it’s all familiar territory: high-octane action, constant peril, tasks, explosions, black cop / white cop and ridiculously aware driving. The 5.1 soundtrack’s worth nothing because each crash will thump you in the chest. With the right actors behind it 12 Rounds could have been more memorable however it’s still a pretty decent balls-to-the-wall action flick, and it doesn’t try to be anything else.
StagKnight: over the top 2007 British ‘black’ comedy horror about a stag party’s midnight paintball session and a murderous knight, awoken from a deadly slumber. Off the bat the film is laden with obvious jokes, bad accents, truly bizarre scenes, and some of the worst costumes you’ll ever see in a feature length… so far, so b-movie. There’s a diverse crew of stereotypes (mod, punk, nerd, Asian, wigger, fatty, wimp, hero, etc, etc), and despite being an 18 the gore’s kept to a minimum, with the majority of violence being suggested off screen. Despite it’s pitfalls the film looks very professional, with great audio and video – especially given that it’s almost entirely filmed in the dark: almost unheard of in this genre! Because of this it’s one of the few b-movies I’d have not felt ripped off by if I’d paid to see it at a cinema. It’s definitely horror for the ‘lads’ / sun readers, although it’s an admirable attempt.